Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining 'Extraordinary' ; in Senate Pact on Court Nominees, Words Matter

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining 'Extraordinary' ; in Senate Pact on Court Nominees, Words Matter

Article excerpt

The selection of the next one or two Supreme Court justices - and how that court's decisions turn - may depend on how a handful of senators define "extraordinary."

That word lies at the heart of the last-minute bipartisan agreement reached Monday by 14 senators intended to preserve the tradition of the filibuster as a blocking tool for a Senate minority.

The agreement holds only through this Congress, or until January 2007. Under it, though, three of President Bush's current nominees will not be filibustered by Democrats, thus allowing their approval by a simple majority vote instead of the potential filibuster hurdle of three-fifths. Mr. Bush's other nominees, however, including possibly at least two for the Supreme Court in the next 20 months, could be filibustered "under extraordinary circumstances."

The problem with "extraordinary" is that it's no longer a very extraordinary word, given all the rhetoric and accusations thrown at the courts themselves, as well as many past Supreme Court nominees and many current Bush lower-court nominees. This agreement could easy fall apart if Republican and Democratic moderates believe the other side is stretching the word's meaning.

The senatorial center cannot hold unless the rhetoric over judges recedes and reason prevails in selecting them.

Finding Aretha-style respect

The rising incivility toward many nominees, as well as the whole judiciary itself, has bred a dangerous disrespect for this independent branch of the federal government - one that's still wrapped in the mystique of black-robed individuals who work in secret chambers, interpreting laws based on constitutional principles, and who serve for life.

Take just these examples of the worrisome McCarthy-like rhetoric:

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, recently criticized the federal courts for eroding American values, saying this is "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." Sen. Edward Kennedy, meanwhile, vowed to resist "any Neanderthal" who is nominated by Bush. The Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, practiced personal destruction by innuendo by making vague reference to "a problem" in the confidential FBI file of Judge Henry Saad, a Bush nominee. …

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